MONTREAL — The federal government has a message for provinces mulling their own long-gun registry startups: don’t look to Ottawa for help.
The Conservatives say they have no intention of sharing records or pumping cash into any new provincial long-gun registries that could surface once the doomed federal database disappears.
Armed with his first majority mandate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is finally expected to eliminate a program that has been sitting in his crosshairs for years.
Ottawa reacted Monday to a report that the Quebec government has a so-called “Plan B” — to set up its own registry — if the federal program is scrapped.
The federal government made it clear that any such program would essentially have to be built from scratch.
Citing privacy issues, a spokesman for federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Ottawa would not share records held by the Canadian Firearms Program with the provinces.
“The information was collected by the federal government for one specific purpose where people understood what was going to be done with that information,” Michael Patton said.
“The minute you try to repurpose something for something else, then you can’t share the information because of the Privacy Act.”
A government source, who did not want to be named, also said the Tories will not be offering any money for the creation of provincial gun registries.
The Conservatives have long promised to abolish the program — which they say is ineffective, wasteful and fails to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
In last month’s throne speech, the Tories listed the abolition of the long-gun registry as a priority and Harper’s powerful legislative majority would have no trouble burying it.
His plans have met the stiffest resistance over the years in Quebec, which became a hotbed of the gun-control movement after the massacre of 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989.
Patton said Quebec or any other province remains free to build its own registry — on its own.
“We’re getting rid of the gun registry, but provinces are entitled to do whatever they want to do,” he said. “Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to end the long-gun registry once and for all and that is exactly what we intend to do.”
Supporters of the 16-year-old program say it saves lives, particularly in reducing the use of firearms in domestic disputes, suicides and attacks against police.
Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil told The Canadian Press that civil servants are considering a provincial registry if the Conservatives deliver on their promise to ditch the federal one.
But Dutil said his ongoing priority is to convince the Conservatives to keep the registry alive.
The Quebec government has long supported the registry. During the 2008 federal election campaign, Premier Jean Charest urged the parties to maintain it and reinforce gun-control regulations.
A spokesman for Dutil said Monday that provincial civil servants are studying a range of potential solutions to the likely abolition of the federal gun registry.
“It’s too early to know if, yes or no, there will be a Quebec gun registry,” said Mathieu St-Pierre.
“If there are elements that we need — records or other things — the (civil servants’) study will say whether it’s one of the proposed solutions.”
Gun-control advocates say the registry works best at the federal level because patchwork provincial laws wouldn’t have enough bite.
“Without borders between the provinces, guns could easily circulate,” said Heidi Rathjen, a former student at Ecole Polytechnique who was at the school the day of the 1989 massacre and has been fighting for tougher gun-control laws ever since.